Although most of us look forward to living a long life, the prospect of old age in our society has unfortunately become an increasingly unpleasant one. The concept of an institutional "home" for theelderly has done much to contribute to this unpopularity. Prominent architects have pondered this problems, and are beginning to design such facilities with innovation and forethought. New projects throughout the country have exhibited a marked trend toward making one's last home a pleasant place in which to live.
"Many nursing home facilities I've seen have been designed, it seems, without the people who would live there in mind," said David Miles Ziskind, a partner in the architectural firm of Gruzen Sc Partners. "The elderly have made a great contribution to society, and to date we have not reciprocated."
In an effort to provide that reciprocation, the Gruzen firms' s Health and Gerontology Division has redesigned the concept of housing for the elderly, providing "common sense" touches and carefully planned features to improve both the physical and psychological fact of such facilities. In such notable projects as the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, New York and Maple Knoll Village in Springdale, Ohio, Gruzen architects have replaced the traditional "nursing home" atmosphere with a feeling that just says "home."
"You must have an area of service that offers a choice," Ziskind explained. "There should be accessibility and freedom, along with the necessary health care facilities and amenities that generally make life easier for the residents."
Noting that within the next decade more than 30 million people in the U.S.A. will be over 65, Ziskind pointed out the need for "a comprehensive team of the architect, the planner and related disciplines in developing housing for this large segment of the population. There's no reason a person should feel he's imprisoned by his age."
Among the innovations included in Gruzen-designed elderly housing are:
* an accent on natural light
* programs developed to involve the resident with the surrounding community and various age groups, while not forcing participation
* the capacity for residents to "customize" dwellings by bringing their own furniture, instead of using the "plastic" institutional alternative
* grips and handrails designed to convenient heights and scales for both wheelchairbound and ambulatory residents
* a system of apartment selection to accommodate residents who are totally self-sufficient, or those who need intermediate or acute care.
"We as architects can't change the problems, but we can change the environment and how the problems are dealt with," asserted Ziskind. Historically, we've seen a change in the nuclear family in the last 25 years. Our parents and grandparents lived in the same home on the same block, and when one grandparent would die or become unable to live alone, they would move in with the children.
"Now, with families more dispersed and with frequent travel more prevalent, the nuclear family is rarely able to care for elderly members the way they did in the past. There is greater dependence now on senior citizen housing. But such housing needs to be sited, planned and designed in ways which make it possible to provide programming and psychological support systems which used to be the province of the nuclear family.
"For example, the degree of violence and vandalism committed by teenagers against the elderly has increased frighteningly in our time. Yet, we've been involved in some innovative planning of housing for the elderly which helps turn that situation around while, at the same time, providing for meaningful programming for the elderly. The idea is to put the two groups -teenagers and the elderly - in close proximity in order to learn from each other, to bring out the positive aspects they can offer each other, instead of negative ones. Senior citizens can serve as tutors in neighborhood schools, and teenagers can be involved and feel responsible and helpful if they become shopping companions for elderly residents.
"To establish this kind of programming, however, requires sensitivity from the start. The complex must be located, planned and designed in a manner which takes these program possibilities into account. Our firm is especially sensitive to the need for easy access to these programs, to the integration of space, and to the way the community is set up. This kind of sensitivity can make a dramatic difference in the lives of elderly people."
Founded in New Jersey in 1936, Gruzen 8c Partners now has offices in New York, Newark and San Francisco. During the past 20 years, the firm has become extensively involved with the programming, planning and design of both long term care facilities and housing for the elderly. The Health & Gerontology Division was created to investigate and explore alternative and innovative solutions in the programming and design of environments serving the aged.
For further information, contact Gerald Freeman, Inc., Public Relations, 201/746-7788 or 212/489-858.